The development of Kalvin Phillips

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    LEEDS, ENGLAND - AUGUST 31: Leeds United's Kalvin Phillips during the Sky Bet Championship match between Leeds United and Middlesbrough at Elland Road on August 31, 2018 in Leeds, England. (Photo by Alex Dodd - CameraSport/ via Getty Images)

    Sacrificed after just 28 then 34 minutes already this season, many players could have reacted negatively when put in Kalvin Phillips’ situation. How would Paul Pogba react to such apparent humiliation for example?

    For Phillips, such moments have not deterred him. If anything they have spurred him on even more. 

    In fact, the midfielder epitomises the team as a collective through the very way he has responded to his setbacks. With Marcelo Bielsa in charge, and clearly respected by his players, there is no place for tantrums. 

    Just as Phillips bounced back in the face of what appeared to be adversity, so too have the team responded well to challenging situations. The second half showing at Hillsborough illustrated this.

    Staring the possibility of a second defeat in a row after Adam Reach’s wonder strike moments before the break, the team stuck to their composed game plan, and were extremely unfortunate to come away with only a point after dominating the home side throughout the second half.

    Phillips in particular demonstrated his adaptability by dropping very deep and picking out passes with his long range of distribution.

    LEEDS, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 18: Leeds United’s Kalvin Phillips vies for possession with Preston North End’s Daniel Johnson during the Sky Bet Championship match between Leeds United and Preston North End at Elland Road on September 18, 2018 in Leeds, England. (Photo by Andrew Kearns – CameraSport via Getty Images)

    Whereas his start to the 2017/18 season was mainly about his ability to get forward and score goals, his performance at Hillsborough showcased his skills in a very different light. 

    During his post-match press conference after the Birmingham game, Marcelo Bielsa said: “I would not want to hurt a player as noble as Phillips. We could say ‘poor Phillips’, but people who know football say Bielsa made a mistake.” 

    Referring to the 22 year-old as ‘noble’ is high praise in itself from a manager who has come across countless personalities and characters during his time in the game. 

    Phillips has certainly deserved his place as a regular cog in the Leeds United team despite whatever criticism may have come his way during previous seasons. 

    August 6th 2017, Macron Stadium, Bolton, England; Sky Bet Championship; Bolton Wanderers versus Leeds United; Kalvin Phillips of Leeds United scores in the 42nd minute to make the score 3-1 to Leeds (Photo by Conor Molloy/Action Plus via Getty Images)

    Often he has been the unsung, underappreciated face at the club. 

    Indeed, while the ‘dream quartet’ of Alex Mowatt, Lewis Cook, Sam Byram and Charlie Taylor were posing as the faces of the 2015/16 season ticket renewal scheme, lauded as the future of the club, Phillips was getting on with the hard graft of getting into the first team himself.

    Mowatt was awarded the club’s 2014/15 Player of the Season award, then Cook was announced as the Football League’s 2015/16 Young Player of the Season the ensuing campaign. As his friends and seemingly superior teammates collected their gongs, Phillips went quietly about his business without recognition.

    Bar a home debut goal against Cardiff towards the rear end of the 2014/15 season, Phillips was relatively unknown as a young player.  

    Indeed, he played just 12 league games in total across the two seasons Mowatt and Cook flourished. After that he made 74 appearances across the following two campaigns.

    LEEDS, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 14: Alex Mowatt of Leeds United celebrates his goal with Lewis Cook during the Sky Bet Championship match between Leeds United and Millwall at Elland Road on February 14, 2015 in Leeds, England. (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)

    Quite a rise, which has seen him nearly reach the milestone of a century of appearances for Leeds at the age of just 22. 

    The others, meanwhile, have long left the club. Mowatt incidentally dropped down to League One to play on loan for Oxford and is now with Barnsley again at the same level. Cook has plenty of potential and made his senior England debut in March.

    Alongside Taylor and Byram (on loan at Nottingham Forest) however, Cook has struggled for game time in the Premier League. Injury has hampered his progression so far. 

    Phillips in contrast is playing regularly for a team who are increasingly making headlines as easily the most exciting Leeds United team of the last decade.

    For the versatile midfielder, ready to be deployed as a makeshift centre-back if required, playing for Leeds United is all that matters to him. If this means for 25 minutes or 90 so be it, Phillips will be abiding by the rules of his gloriously eccentric boss.